I think I look angry a lot of the time. It’s not really anger, though.
I’m afraid most of the day, it turns out. I worry about my kids, about my husband in Kandahar, about losing control of the tiny bit of peace I’ve managed to carve out for myself. It’s all very precarious, this. Every time I feel a tiny burgeoning equilibrium, something happens and I’m thrown again – thrown into a panic that I’ll never get it back. Every time it happens, the panic digs in deeper.
This is called Post Traumatic Stress.
I have spent years in the war zone they call “disability”, and more (though with generous leaves) in the theatre of “divorce wars”. I was on the front lines of the “alcoholic parents” campaign, and have battled my own addiction issues.
Wah, right? So what. What do I have to complain about? I have a funny, smart, and handsome husband who returns my never-ending love. I have time, and money, to help my children with their lives. I am not starving, nor am I unhealthy – except for self-inflicted stuff like eating too much sugar and not exercising as regularly as I should.
I’m not making excuses, I’m just establishing provenance, really. All of those things led to my having the type of personality that allowed me to over-do. Feeling like I have nothing to complain about is part of the issue, isn’t it? I over-did to the point where I’m actually pretty much depleted. I have no more, and though I keep trying to live in the world and respond the way I always did, I really don’t have any more, and can’t.
Sometimes I appear “normal” but right underneath I’m on red alert. Because of my particular circumstances, sometimes I need to be on high alert. That makes this harder. How can I relax if when I do someone puts my daughter in harm’s way? How can I be unafraid if I can’t trust those people I put in charge of one most precious to me?
I’m hyper-vigilant, and anxious. I respond to most things as if they are a threat to me or to my family; I’m irritable and jumpy and often leak tears without being able to really stop them.
I really hate it.
I was talking with a friend the other day and probably, you know, over-sharing. I told her that I felt broken. And I do, but didn’t realize it until I said it out loud. And it’s not just sometimes – like, I can turn it on and off. It’s all on a continuum of broken.
I’m trying to work on it, but it’s very hard. I have trouble figuring out how to fix it. My doctor gave me anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs, and they were great but masked things. I didn’t feel quite real (but it was nice not to cry, you know?). I’m weaning off them now and they’ve thrown me into a tizzy that’s lasted several weeks now. I’m more agitated, and have been acting badly – over-reacting, and alienating and going from 0 to 100 so fast my head hurts.
It’s a process, right? The reason I’m trying to wean off these pills is because I don’t want medicated health. I want health. That the withdrawal is so taxing and so very very prolonged says to me I don’t want that stuff in my system. I was on what they call a “sub-therapeutic” dose, apparently, so it’s pretty frightening… I mean, during this withdrawal period, I’ve acted worse than I did when I was prescribed the drug! She gave me Ativan to deal with the withdrawal, but I’m starting to think that pharmaceuticals aren’t the answer for me.
Exercise helps. Eating right helps. Laughing helps.
There are days, you know, when I think that I’m hurting now because I’m maybe just not strong enough, or didn’t try hard enough… maybe it’s lack of character? Maybe I’m just toxic and everyone should shun me.
But I’m not, and they shouldn’t.
What’s toxic is the feeling that I’m out of control of my feelings. The feeling that I have to rely on others and can’t always trust them. Toxic is trying to pretend I’m not hanging on, some days, by my fingernails.
Parents of children with chronic conditions often get chronic conditions themselves. We did everything we could for our kids – and that was not inconsiderable. We had smarts, energy, passion, and money. We were wily and hopeful and educated. We had many gifts. What we didn’t have was enough support. Now that she’s no longer in school and is over 19, we have a lot more support than we ever did. Maybe that’s why this is hitting me so hard now… I took a breath, and had a moment to think.
It’s still not ideal, but it’s getting there. To give them credit where it’s due, the VON has been doing a pretty darn good job lately, no missed visits for a couple of weeks now. They’re consistently showing up, and I’m starting to think I don’t have to wait for that particular other shoe to drop. I’m hopeful, I really am.
I’m not writing this blog to get sympathy, or to get a free pass on bad behaviour. I’m not writing it because I love to hear myself talk (though, really? I do. Who doesn’t?).
I don’t even think that this is particularly original, you know?
I think, though, that it’s important to get it out there. It makes me feel better to write this. It seems more real when I write it, when I see it there. I wonder whether or not it would have helped me to see something like this – a few years ago, maybe? Maybe I wouldn’t have tried so hard to do it all on my own. Maybe I would’ve entered therapy earlier, or wouldn’t have let myself get so burned out that there was nothing to fall back on. I remember wanting to go to a workshop about caregiver burnout, but didn’t have – you guessed it – a caregiver for my daughter. Besides, I wasn’t burnt out. That was for other people.
I want to stress here, especially because Vicky reads this blog, that it’s not her. It’s not her disability that’s put me where I am today. It’s a whole perfect storm of stuff that has made me how I am today. The mixture is pretty banal, actually – emotionally damaged parents, role-models who taught me to swallow anger and then spit it out ten-fold mixed with a personality that makes me want to please and help and to not admit when I need help. Add to that years of chronic sleeplessness, years of feeling one mistake away from failure; years of chaos and drama and yes, real emergencies…. well, I just sort of finally caved under it all.
It’s not pretty, and I’m sure that I’ve alienated people and that some people think I’m a jerk. I have to live with that, I guess. I hope that the people I love know that I’m a work in progress. I hope they know that I feel broken much of the time but that I can see a time when I will be repaired.
There are days that are better than others, and there are days when I sit here and think that there’s nothing wrong with me that a swift kick in the pants wouldn’t cure. There are days when I respond to everything like it’s a threat to my life and limb.
Yesterday we had a crisis. The weird thing was that after all those days of responding to not-crises as if they were, a real bona fide crisis merely made me calm. Not sure what mechanism is going on there, but because I asked for help and was so graciously supported by some of my friends, it was not the end of the world. Fear was bested by my asking for help, and by acknowledging that I can’t do it all alone. Very simply, that feels like the right path for me to have taken.
Some days, like today, I feel oddly (because so rare) calm. Today I feel like I slid a few ticks along that continuum and that there’s a clear shot at mental health in my future. Life is good, today. In fact, I’m pretty sure life is always pretty good; it’s my ability to see that fact that changes.
PTS and PTSD Info:
Symptoms of PTSD: Increased anxiety and emotional arousal
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
Some common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD isn’t only for the military. Here are a few good sites to look at if you need information:
- HelpGuide.org symptoms, treatment, and self-help
- Caregiver Health Risks: PTSD
- PTSD in Parents
- PTSD Overview from US Department of Veterans Affairs